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Govt seeks middle ground as Anna continues fast

delhi Updated: Aug 22, 2011 08:46 IST
anna hazare

Anti-corruption-crusader-Anna-Hazare-takes-rest-on-the-stage-during-his-hunger-strike-in-New-Delhi-India-Hazare-began-a-public-hunger-strike-and-mass-protest-to-push-for-government-to-adopt-his-version-of-a-bill-setting-up-an-anti-graft-watchdog

As Anna Hazare's fast entered the seventh day, a worried government scoured the possibility of back-channel talks with the social activist to defuse the situation.

Hazare's call saw the agitation reaching even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's doorstep, from where 80 people were taken into custody.

A highly placed government functionary told HT late on Sunday that the government will forward the Jan Lokpal Bill to the parliamentary standing committee.

"The committee may ask for all relevant papers from the government. The draft prepared by the Anna team is also part of the records."

The government is committed to passing the Lokpal Bill in the winter session of Parliament in December.

A day after Singh said his government was open to talks, speculation mounted after senior Maharashtra government official Umesh Chandra Sarangi met Hazare on Saturday night and Sunday at the Ramlila Maidan.

On Sunday, Sarangi was joined by Indore-based spiritual leader Baiyuji Maharaj, who also has a rapport with Hazare.

There was no news of what transpired at the meeting. Nor was there any sign of a breakthrough.

Late at night, Hazare's close associate Arvind Kejriwal said no agreement had been reached with the government.

As the Centre searched for the elusive middle ground to buy peace with Hazare, it will have to take into confidence opposition leaders and Parliament, which meets on Tuesday.

Sources in Team Anna said the meeting with Sarangi and Maharaj was "personal" and "no compromise formula" was discussed.

"We have not closed the door of dialogue. Only through dialogue can the issues can be resolved," Hazare said.

"With whom and where should we discuss what?" asked Kejriwal.

Later in the evening, the Hazare camp acknowledged that though some "proposal" had come it did not include their demands. They also ruled out any compromise on bringing the prime minister and higher judiciary in the lokpal's ambit and immediate passage of the bill.

Riding high on growing public support, Hazare warned of an "unprecedented revolution" in the country if the bill is not passed by August 30.

He and Kejriwal urged supporters to stage dharnas outside the houses of MPs in their constituencies and demand written commitments in support of the Jan Lokpal Bill.

Ministers like Sriprakash Jaiswal got a taste of the demonstration on Sunday and security was beefed up outside the residences of ministers such as Kapil Sibal, a member of the joint drafting committee.

Pushed to the edge, sources said the government may rope in or seek inputs from its ministers from Maharashtra on dealing with the social activist from their state.

Among the names speculated were those of Congress leaders Sushilkumar Shinde and Vilasrao Deshmukh and the NCP's Sharad Pawar.

Shinde said that if the PM wanted him to talk to Hazare, he was willing.

Pawar cut short his visit to Pune to fly back to Delhi reportedly because of the "Hazare crisis".

But he is unlikely to be an interlocutor given his bitter history with Hazare, who had forced him to drop two ministers in 2005 and ensured his exit from the group of ministers to draft the Lokpal Bill.

But during the ongoing agitation, the NCP was careful not to project itself as anti-Hazare.

Said Ajit Pawar, "The NCP was not against Hazare. There are no two opinions that corruption must be eliminated."